Most of us intuitively get how important it is to know what to do in times of adversity and even what not to do under adversity. But until now, you may not have known just how important it really is. A new study, conducted in November 2018 among 1,334 employees by VitalSmarts (a leadership training company), is about to open your eyes.

Let's look at what the study shows about how leaders tend to act under stress and the cascading impact of those behaviors.

What behaviors does stress bring out?

  • 53 percent of managers are more closed-minded and controlling than open and curious
  • 45 percent are more upset and emotional than calm and in control
  • 45 percent reject rather than seek to understand
  • 43 percent are more angry than calm
  • 37 percent sidestep rather than be direct
  • 30 percent are more deceitful than honest

I've seen all of these behaviors in times of stress--and often from leaders whom I didn't think would succumb to the pressure. The real problem, though, is what follows.

What's the impact of these behaviors?

The study shows those working for managers that show such behaviors are:

  • 62 percent more likely to consider leaving their job
  • 56 percent more likely to shut down and stop participating
  • 49 percent less likely to go above and beyond
  • 47 percent more likely to be frustrated and angry

I think most leaders just kind of know that when they misbehave in times of stress it's never a good thing. Now, this study shows us just how damaging it can be. So, how about some incentive for the other side of the coin?

What happens if I don't crack from stress?

The study shows the opportunity for a better outcome. Managers who, despite stress, can stay in dialogue, are calm, collected, candid, curious, direct and willing to listen, have teams that are happier, more engaged, and that tend to:

  • Meet quality standards and act in the customers best interest 56 percent more of the time
  • Meet deadlines 47 percent more of the time
  • Improve workplace safety 34 percent more of the time
  • Achieve budget 25 percent more of the time

The study also showed that the ability to deal with high-stress situations has nothing to do with age or gender. Which leads us to the next question.

How can I improve my style under stress?

1. Think before you speak--but do speak up.

Be certain your intent matches your tone; don't let emotions carry you away. Stop and consider what you're about to say before you say it. I've seen many a manager say something under stress they later regretted--it could have been avoided with a bit of emotional intelligence. That said, don't bury what you have to say and let it fester. It can only lead to brewing resentment or an even more emotional reaction further down the line.

2. Start with the facts.

Related to the above, the study highlights that we tend to store feelings and conclusions, not the facts that created them. Thus, we tend to react emotionally under stress, not grounding our reactions in, first and foremost, fact. For leaders in times of stress, it's critical to provide hope and reality--reality based on facts.

Start there.

3. Challenge your story.

As the study authors pointed out:

"When we feel threatened or stressed, we amplify our negative emotions by telling villain, victim and helpless stories. Villain stories exaggerate others' negative attributes. Victim stories make us out to be innocent sufferers who have no role in the problem. And helpless stories rationalize our over- or under-reactions because 'there was nothing else I could have done!' Instead, take control of your emotions by challenging your story."

Net, don't let your emotions get the better of you in times of stress, even though it would be quite natural for you to do so. Stay calm and lead on.

Published on: Feb 21, 2019
Like this column? Sign up to subscribe to email alerts and you'll never miss a post.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.